We have a potter in our midst…
My wonderful wife, MakeWalkRead, is building up quite a reputation as an expert wrangler of clay. The house and garden are steadily filling up with nice pieces, and her Folksy Shop sees brisk business. However this does mean the dining room spends most of its time under a thin film of slip.
We have plans to build a proper studio for pottery work, though this is a little way off for now. In the interim we decided we could do with an outdoor cupboard that could store tools, part-finished pieces, glazes, spare clay, etc. You know those big plastic or metal boxes you can get, that are half-way between a cupboard and a shed? I thought of one of them, then decided I could do better…
First, a basic design. I would make a frame that would be big enough for the stuff to be stored, and would then clad this frame to make it suitably secure and weatherproof. Then I would assemble doors for the front that could be secured and locked as needed.
I’ve written up a few projects that have followed a frame-based construction method. For example, I made a Laundry Basket as a series of square pine frames screwed together with hardboard panels to fill in the top and sides. The Cold Frame I made had a wooden structure that was clad with featherboard. Even the Chap’s Den came about by building featherboard walls onto a frame made from planks and long fence poles. It’s a tried and trusted route that seemed sensible to follow this time too.
I started by measuring the contents. That would tell me how big a cupboard would be needed. The tools were contained in large plastic storage boxes, measuring about 60 x 40 x 18 cm. This gave me an idea of the physical size of the cupboard, and gave some impression of how things might be stacked: e.g., whether I should have these boxes placed in endways or sideways, arranged two side-by-side or one atop the other and so on.
I quickly ruled out placing boxes side by side. While this would allow the cupboard to be lower in height – with fewer shelves inside – it would take up more material to cover the sides. (Mathematically speaking, the more spherical a shape is, the less surface area it needs to hold a given volume of stuff.) Also, the longer a shelf is, the stronger it has to be to support its contents and its own weight, so keeping the shelves shorter was a more sensible option.
I settled on a unit that would have 4 shelves, each being at least 65 x 45 cm in area, and with at least 25 cm height per shelf to accommodate the boxes and the thicknesses of the shelves themselves. With this basic idea in mind, we went off to Oxford Wood Recycling to see what they had.
I found some cheap strips of 2 x 5 cm softwood that were well prepped for outdoor use, albeit painted blue. The colour didn’t matter, as this frame would be covered up by the cladding around the outside. I bought as many strips as they had, each about 210cm long give or take a few cm. I made a quick calculation to ensure I had enough to build at least the minimum frame size, with some spare for other parts as needed. I also found some regular, untreated 4 x 2 cm softwood strips that could be used as supports and braces for the shelves.
A follow-on trip to the local DIY Superstore yielded some packs of tongue-and-groove wood that I could use for the shelves, some packs of featherboard that would make cladding for the sides and roof, and some hardboard panels that I could use to make doors.
Ah yes, doors… I would need to build proper doors that could be opened and closed and locked. This would be the main challenge of the project. And I’d need to have another go at hinges. I don’t have a good track record with hinges…
Thinking about the doors got me to consider the orientation of the cupboard as a whole. It would most likely end up with its back against a wall, and the shelves would be rectangular, i.e. narrow ends and wide sides. I could arrange it so that a narrow end went up against the wall. That would make the cupboard stick out further into the space but it would occupy less wall. Alternatively I could put one of the wider sides against the wall, meaning the cupboard would occupy more wall but stick out less. I drew two sketches to let me consider this.
Straight away, the option with the wider side against the wall made most sense. However, it did mean that it would probably be better to make two doors instead of one. I could probably get away with a single door if it was in the end of the cupboard, but really, the two-door design was more appropriate.
More sketching would let me firm up the dimensions of the frame. I would need four strips to make up the width of the cupboard, four to give it the depth, and four more to make up the frame’s height. The ‘height strips’ would form the legs of the cupboard, and the width and depth strips would have their ends screwed into these height strips to construct the frame.
I started with a nominal shelf size of 50 x 100 cm. A depth of 50cm made good sense; I could make four 50cm pieces of the frame from one strip of wood, and the 40cm wide boxes would fit comfortably.
The 100cm width needed a little more thought. I would need to cut the width and height strips out of the available 210cm long pieces I had got from OWS. I could get two 100cm lengths from one piece, but I would struggle if the height strips did not fit neatly into the available pieces. So, I turned to thinking about how high the frame would need to be, and decided that dimension would help me settle on the right width.
I needed at least 25cm height for each shelf, and have four shelves to fit in. That’s 100cm at least for the height strips. Then I need to include short legs to get the bottom shelf off the ground, so add, say 5cm for that. So, I need at least 105cm long pieces. That was my first guess.
Except, no. I’ve got that wrong. I need them to be longer. The width and depth strips will screw into the height strips, so the lengths of the height strips must include two additional lots of 5cm to accommodate the width and depth strips at the top and bottom. So, I would need the vertical strips to be at least 115cm long.
I measured the pieces of wood again. What if I pair up each width strip with a height strip and cut these from a wood piece? So, given four pieces of wood, I found I could cut them each into two pieces, one 80cm length and one 116cm length. 116cm would give me a little more room for each shelf (say, a 26cm spacing, allowing also that the bottom shelf would be in line with the frame and so is already accounted for.) An 80cm width would give me plenty of room for the plastic boxes, with a little extra for other things to fit alongside if needed.
So now I have four short, four medium and four long sections of blue painted wood (and a few offcuts), ready to build a frame.
Now, I should apologise as I’ve waffled on about measurements and sketches for the whole of this post, and barely got a saw out. I shall get on with lots of construction work in the next post, and promise there will be plenty of jigsaw and screwdriver action.